When Frank Iero first got his start in the New Jersey hardcore and punk scene, the only thing he had on his mind was creating something loud and disruptive onstage. Adorned in dirty band T-shirts, at-home bleached hair and a zero-fucks-given attitude, Iero adamantly dedicated himself to creating a wave of sound up until he met the intersection of music and fashion.
After joining Mikey and Gerard Way and Ray Toro in My Chemical Romance, the group highlighted the crossroads of their punk-rock noise and grand, Living Dead Doll aesthetic of Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge. Throughout their years together, My Chem encouraged a foundation of music and visuals neatly intertwined with one another. But as Iero ventured into his solo journey, he was able to recapture his roots and throw his entire heart and soul into his craft, even if he was just wearing a hoodie onstage.
Obviously, My Chem had a concrete aesthetic and look that accompanied each album. But aside from when you worked with them, for your other projects, did they require such an extreme, meticulous, well-thought-out idea for what you were wearing onstage?
Honestly, as for the other stuff, I feel like after The Black Parade and Danger Days, I wanted to get as far away from that as I could. So there was a lot of me [that] just wanted it to be taken away from that aspect, getting into the costumes onstage and really telling a solid story in the record. I wanted to be more spontaneous with it, I guess.
Especially when you started doing your solo stuff, it came off more raw. It was very punk rock, very exposed.
Especially with the cellabration record, I wanted you to feel like you were listening in on something as opposed to listening to something made for you. And I think that carried through with the touring. Feeling like this was just happening in the moment for you, not something that was being replicated. I wanted to feel more in the moment.
Especially with the Future Violents, you introduced a jumpsuit look, and the whole band wear it onstage now. What was the purpose of creating a more uniform look after breaking away from that for so many years?
That really came from and was inspired by Steve Albini and the environment we made the record in. And one thing about Electrical Audio is they all wear these overall jumpsuits. And we loved it so much—the idea that you’re a technician, you get to work and you work on your craft. It felt almost like working in a factory. Everybody has their job, [and] everybody knows what to do. It’s more uniform. And we love that aesthetic, especially for this record, going in and being that laser-focused technician. I feel like, at that point, you have this united front of a full band as opposed to the separate personalities.
The reason why we chose the white and blue was one, the blue is exactly from the studio. And that is an Albini special, the navy blue. The white is a little less forgiving onstage, and it’s fun to see how dirty you can get that. I like the progression of that.
In your practice space and studio at home, you have a massive American flag on your wall. That’s symbolism that we’ve seen frequently. Obviously, Ray had the American flag patch for the Killjoys uniform he wore, and then the Killjoys spider was set on the American flag. Is that symbolism significant, or is it just a really strange coincidence?
It’s weird, man. When you go to other countries, you don’t see 25 flags of that country at the gas station, in front of the airport and then another 50 on your way to your hotel. But you do in America. It’s strange how much we use the American flag, and it means different things to different people. I love our country. I think we have some real fucking shitty mistakes we’ve made along the way and some very painful things about our history. But all in all, I hold hope that we can still do amazing, great things and prove to ourselves and everybody else that we are inherently good. But as far as the aesthetic of the flag, it really is a beautiful design choice. And I think that when using the imagery, Gerard, myself and Ray, we grew up in the ’80s, and you would see that flag, and it was used in everything that we loved. We were kids that grew up with G.I. Joe and Rocky. The flag was always used. And it conjures up those feelings of being a kid and enjoying action movies and things of that nature. And it also brings up the images of protest in the ’60s. And the one that’s hanging in my basement is a WWII coffin flag. I actually found that at a garage sale and loved it so much. I think it might be entirely made of wool. It’s crazy. I don’t try to use [that flag] as a backdrop just because I’m like, “Oh, America, fuck yeah” kind of thing. But that just happens to be a giant wall. It covers a lot of areas. So it’s hard to get away from. As far as the theories of the connections, I think it gets used a lot in our imagery. And I think that’s just a coincidence that it gets used in different areas. But it’s not a connection.
For years, you worked with Colleen Atwood, who created these amazing, encompassing costumes forThe Black Parade. What was it like working with Colleen? Have you worked with any other costume designers since?
Colleen is unbelievable. She’s a wonderful human being and so good at what she does. I remember working on a couple of things and going into her studio and her [being like], “Oh yeah, this is the Sleepy Hollow cape,” or “This is from Beetlejuice.” It’s like, “Oh, my God.” You’re working with the best. But as far as other designers here and there, a lot of that stuff was Colleen and sourced by people that she had worked with. A lot of the stuff just came from Gerard’s drawings. He had the vision in his head for a while, his costumes and the way they would look. And we would be like, “Could we have this or that here? And then add this here,” but all of those ideas started in Gerard’s imagination.
You can’t argue that effect nearly 15 years later. You still see people dressing up in those Black Parade costumes.
It’s funny how people take a moment in time to be a fan of that band. A lot of people, I think, early on, are like, “I really love AC/DC. I really love Foo Fighters.” They love the catalog. But with My Chem, there’s a lot of people that [are] like, “I really love Bullets. I really love Black Parade. This is my era of this band.” And I love that it can survive in these different increments that people are really liking Three Cheers and dress like Gerard from Three Cheers. It’s fucking nuts, and that’s really fun to see these young kids that maybe weren’t even able to buy that CD when it came out. But now they’re obsessed with it. And that’s their look. That’s the thing that they’ve latched onto. It means something that much to them. It’s so flattering that something we created all those years ago has inspired you now to expend all of this energy into transforming into [that]. And that’s crazy.
For all the time that you were with each other, you always were in some form of a uniform while onstage. There were some looser versions of “uniforms,” especially the Danger Days costumes, when you would play festivals and whatnot. But when you played the return show in 2019, you didn’t wear any type of uniform. You all were up there being rock stars, wearing your everyday clothes. Was it a collective decision, or did you all just say, “Fuck it”?
I think we all knew that it was a special moment in time and that [it] was something that people were going to look back on, and you’re going to see a lot of pictures of and all that. So we all just knew that we had to choose something that we felt comfortable in. But it never came up like, “Oh, we should do this. You should do that. You know, we should all do something together.” I think, at this point, it was just a celebration of what we collectively made together. That was a crazy night. And I think the nerves were high, and the energy was high. And so it was, “Pick something you feel comfortable in because it’s going to be a wild one.”
Looking back from the Future Violents all the way to when you were in Pencey Prep, were there any visual choices or stage choices that you just wish you had never put on? Are there any moments that you look back on and you’re like, “What the hell was I doing there?”
It’s weird now. We toured for so long, and when I started touring and playing shows and stuff like that, nobody had cellphones. It wasn’t digital photography everywhere. And things weren’t all over the internet. But now, I’ve been doing it for so long, there’s this collection of photos that surface or things that come up, and it’s like these things live forever out of context. So I think that there is a definite era in My Chem where we were on tour—I think it was the Linkin Park Projekt Revolution tour—and it was a very masculine, testosterone-driven crowd. And it was so weird and laughable to us that this was happening. And then also people getting rough with young kids or girls, it didn’t sit well with us. So we got a bit combative. And there’s definitely a couple of shows where we’re poking fun at the people that were there, and we had these football helmets on, and I had short shorts on. [Laughs.] But those photos, out of context, are very strange. I know what I was thinking at that moment and why that stuff happened. But without that context, it just looks like, “What the fuck happened here?” It looks like a Halloween costume gone wrong. And that just gets a little strange. It’s definitely something you don’t think of when you’re doing it.
You can read the full interview in issue 389 available here.